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Soviet Soldiers' Heroism Becomes Political Debate

The following dialogue is from Russia 1’s Sunday Time report concerning current attitudes toward the upcoming Victory Day remembrances on May 9th 

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The following dialogue is from Russia 1’s Sunday Time report concerning the attitudes toward the upcoming Victory Day remembrances on May 9th. Russia Insider’s Phil Butler and other noted experts address the insult and injury going on in world foreign relations and the media.

Translated from the original Russian text version by 1TV's Ivan Blagoy, by RI's Aleksei Shestyan


<figcaption>Courtesy 1TV</figcaption>
Courtesy 1TV

Remembering on Victory Day, and celebration those Soviets and Russians who helped bring a world war to a close has become a political stumbling block now. Today the rhetoric goes something like this, ‘Whoever goes to the Victory Day celebration in Moscow, is at the very least a Moskal [Derogatory term/slang]. This insulting diatribe, it has become an integral part of a serious political discourse.

Moscow’s position on this issue has remained the same - that this wasa  victory over a great evil and the rescue of the world from the clutches of fascism. The arrival or non-arrival of invited guests, it does not make this any less of an important occasion for the typical Russian.

Not too long ago, a lot of nation states actually supported this holiday, and most were ready to attend when invited. Just a few years ago all Europe supported its veterans. But then, this commonplace act of remembrance and memorial, it too became in itself a political battleground.

A colleague of mine decided to find out why this occasion became so hotly debated, and what brought these changes about. He also explains why today remembrance is even more important to the living, than even those who have passed away.

Hans Scheffler lives in the town of Gartz, Germany. He is jokingly referred to as the ‘Guardian of the Memorial,’ once a former teacher of the Russian language, he has for some twenty years taken care of the memorial of fallen Soviet soldiers, located there.

Not too long ago, vandals poured paint on the same memorials. Hans Scheffler reported it to the authorities.

Hans Scheffler - The memorials should be clearly seen to all. That is why I called the police when paint was dumped on the memorials. I called the security chief. I told him that ‘there is hooliganism going on in the memorial area. Take care of the situation.’

The local authorities went ahead and cleaned up the debris, and also came up with a project to rebuild the memorial.

Frank Gotzman - There was heavy fighting going on in this area, in the town of Gartz. Seventy years ago, the battles to liberate it. Its fair to say, that for the Seventieth Anniversary we do not want to just re-decorate the memorial and bring a few flowers, but we want to make it better and integrate it into the culture of the town.

Right now the authorities are researching the data and biography of the soldiers and officers of the Red Army who died here. So there could be an informational bulletin here that would lay more information out about their being here.

Aleksandr Mempel - To me, it is important not only to record the names of the perished, but to tell their stories as well. This information will interest the younger generation, including my own children.

East Germans remember who liberated them, and why. With flowers, the citizens of the city Chemnitz celebrated the anniversary of the liberation of the first German town. But this sort of thing does not happen everywhere.

This is an anniversary coin, from France. The official name is ‘the Seventieth year of the liberation of Europe.’ There is not one word about the defeat of fascism, and this is just half the problem.

In Estonia, this same coin could be bought with this letter that stated the following. ‘With the entry of US into the second world war in 1942, Nazi Germany for the first time needed retreated.’ The Soviet Union is mentioned here only once, in the context of the events in Poland in 1939.

At this version of history one has to restrain their urge to laugh, but such events are not a laughing matter.

In Estonia, the role the Soviet army played in the liberation of Europe begins with a school curriculum, and reaches the level of absurd quite quickly.

Ilya Nikiforov (Historian) - The most paradoxical event that is taught in the schools is the fall of Berlin. The three most popular authors used in the history curriculum do not mention who actually took Berlin. They sidestep the event, they say that Berlin fell, or Berlin surrendered, or Berlin was split into three pieces.

In the pre-Baltic countries, one taboo is broken after another. The head of Latvia compared Russia with the third Reich. Meanwhile, on the streets of Riga, there is an annual march of the legionnaires of the Waffen - SS (paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler inside of Nationalist Socialist Germany).

Authorities of the Latvian government also blocked the museum expo presentation in Paris, France on the Latvian concentration camp, Salaspils. This notorious concentration camp is labeled in the country’s school history books as a work, learning camp. This same description was interestingly used by the Nazis as well.

Igor Gusev (Historian) - The thing most surprising to me, is that on the first page of this book it says ‘the publishing of this was prepared and financed for by the Commission for Democracy of the US Embassy in Latvia.

The willingness of the US to enforce the right view of history upon the rest of the world, well its just mind boggling.

*All this boils over and eventually comes to a head. This week the Latvian Parliamentary Secretary for the Department of Justice, Janis Iesalnieks, spoke on Russians living in Latvia and the Aryan race in social media on his twitter account and he came to the conclusion that the Russians should be chased out of Latvia.

Janis Iesalnieks - Remember the principles of evolution. The strongest survive, who squeeze the weaker out of existence. If Latvians and the Baltic race would not be able to stand up for themselves, they will die… and that would be justified.

The US and the EU critique any dignitaries who visit Moscow. They are also completely ignoring the racial hatred developing between some of these countries.

The veterans are not keeping quiet about this. In Slovenia took place a multi national congress on the Seventieth anniversary of the victory of fascism.

Tiet Turnshek (Organization of Veterans) - Fascism is coming back all over Europe. From Latvia and the Baltics, all the way to the Adriatic Sea and Italy. It is again threatening the world and stability in Europe, and the security of all countries. We need to do everything we can to avoid a new Cold War, new conflicts, especially in the center of Europe.

But the memory of Victory Day has become an interchangeable coin in political duels. (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0316-pifer-ve-day-kiev-moscow-20150316-story.html) Three past US Ambassadors to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, John Herbst, William Taylor, recommended moving the Victory Day celebration from Moscow to Kiev. This is because Red Square is not the best place for this type of celebration.

Russia Insider's Phil Butler from Trier, Germany via 1TV
Russia Insider's Phil Butler from Trier, Germany via 1TV

Phil Butler (US Journalist) - There is really no other way of looking at this situation, Men and women laid down everything, including their lives to protect their country and their relatives. If they didn't lose their lives, then they returned home injured. Most Russians lost somebody or were affected. Now we insult them like this. It’s a travesty of the worst kind.

It looks like this isn’t a very big concern of US diplomats. There was an uproar in the Czech Republic, when Andrew Schapiro, who is the U.S. Ambassador  to the Czech Republic, on live television began to criticise the Czech president on his plans to visit Moscow on May 9th Victory Day anniversary.

The President of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, responded that he would not allow any diplomat to interfere with his foreign policy and whom he visits. He added that the doors of the Czech ministry are currently closed to that same diplomat.

Milos Zeman (President of the Czech Republic) - I am going to Moscow to pay my respects, so that in our country no one needs to talk in German, they don’t need to greet each other with a ‘Heil Hitler!’ Without the Soviet Union defeating Germany would have been utterly impossible. The price of that victory - was 20 million dead.

That is a price that cannot be forgotten, nor can it be ignored. The President of Russia this week greeted the veterans of that war and ?, the President while visiting gorod Staraya Rusa. 

Vladimir Putin (President of the Russian Federation) - According to the current political atmosphere of today’s day and age, whoever may try to change something, using such tools as the glorification of Nazism, will not succeed. It will all be for nothing, and will not work out for them. Its just not possible to repaint history for your political goals. But of course, there are those who will try. There is a certain harm, and ills that these measures could have on things. I underline the word harm, this is because people are beginning to have an innate sense of danger of extremism, and its more dangerous offshoot, nazism.

This is exactly what members of the older generation are trying to prevent at any cost. Gunter Hepner lives in the village of Mescherin, on the bay of Lake Oder in Germany. In the April 1945 some of the most serious confrontations of World War II took place here. Right on his property, for all to see, he has installed a memorial stone, and he will buy an insignia to put on top of  the stone. He is ready to explain to the younger generation himself what kind of battles took place; why the Red Army soldiers sacrificed their lives, and how we have become so accustomed to peace today.

Gunter Hepner - Those who saw the Red Army and the sacrifices they took; those who lived through fascism, and its utter brutality - are entitled to say that something must be done for the future generations. Some piece of mind should be given back, for the people buried here, the same ones who fought and died here.

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